April 7, 2018

This column concentrates today on a vital issue – the subject of despicable conditions of the existing public toilets in Sri Lanka, with two sentient examples to expose the gravity of this problem.

An office worker once stood on the Enderamulla station platform for the train to arrive. Suddenly he felt a terrible unease in his stomach, and with the increasing rumbling warnings he had to use a toilet for a call of nature! He went in search of the station toilet, but his eyes beheld the odious sight of all sorts of smelly, rotting garbage confronting him at the entrance. Gathering his failing resolve, he stepped on the pile of garbage and made his way to the toilet. A more repulsive sight awaited him when his eyes beheld decomposing piles of faecal matter smothering the commode and strewn all over the toiler floor.

With the sword of Damocles hanging over his head, he was thrown between the devil and the deep blue sea, as he was beset by clouds of flies. With the Hamletian dilemma of ‘to do or not to do’, which meant relieving himself over the faecal mass over the rotting garbage, which was utterly despicable, or not to do, meant the devil would make him soil his pants in public! Now he faced a polylemma! Should he use the toilet, come what may, or should he relieve himself in some corner outside, at the risk of being ‘copped’ or being embarrassed by being seen by passing passengers, or should he make his way home while praying to the devil to have mercy on him!  At the end he rushed home in a tuk tuk,and the devil was merciful! He missed the train! He applied for sick leave!

On April fool’s day the writer, prior to despatching this article to the newspaper, visited the Enderamulla station to take photographs of the railway toilet to illustrate its condition, but the Railway authorities had already started renovations work on the toilet and the work was in progress.

Female tourist

A female Western tourist, in the company of the writer and family, during a tour of Sri Lanka became somewhat restless inside the vehicle, while on tour. Apparently, she had reached a stage where she could not hold anymore, as her bladder had reached a bursting point. She had been holding the urge to use a toilet for some time, and had turned red in the face, felt uneasy with the throbbing feeling in her bladder, and started to perspire. Finally, she was at the stage where she could not hold any longer and whispered in the writer’s wife’s ear about her need.

Instantly, the vehicle was stopped in a local town, but there was not a single public toilet to be seen. Even the walk on the high street in search of a suitable toilet became an arduous task in such a desperate scenario.  Finally, compassionate shop keeper obliged and allowed her to use their toilet. She did not care whether the toilet was filthy or the stench from a water sealed squatting pan was unbearable. All she wanted was to save face and the embarrassment of wet pants.

Railway toilets

When it comes to railway services, the CGR proudly introduces new air- conditioned observation decks and compartments for the benefit of the tourists and the upper middle class traveller. But almost all the railway stations do not offer facilities of usable toilets. Why are the railway toilets in general, in such filthy conditions? Is it because the authorities and the staff allocated to maintain toilets adopt a cavalier attitude to their duties?

Regrettably the trade unions, which organise protests and strikes too, have been blinded to such inconveniences faced by railway commuters. They have completely failed in their duty to bring such pathetic conditions to the notice of the Railway Management. As much as they fight for wage rises and other privileges, it is high time they concentrate on the public consciousness about such basic human rights, especially to maintain clean toilets for commuters.

 There are many railway stations in this country all run by the Government Railway. A large number of commuters use railway networks for daily travel, to and fro, in getting to their work places and home. Of late, there have been a lot of foreign tourists too, who have begun to use the CGR, especially to travel to destinations such as Kandy, Ella, Nanu Oya and other places of interest, yet the railway authorities have not been able to provide the basic amenity of clean toilets for commuters in trains and at railway stations.

Bandu Dharmaratne in ‘the letters to the Editor column,’ in a Sunday Newspaper recently expressed his experience on the 9th of March 2018 inside the observation compartment of the Badulla train from Ella to Polgahawela station. When he overheard how some western tourists were commenting on the state of the wash room in this luxury observation compartment, he decided to see for himself and was flabbergasted to see the toilet door could not be bolted from inside; he had to ask his wife to stand guard until he came out! Moreover, the washroom was in such a despicable state as someone had done the honours all over the seat-cover. The stench was unbearable. This made it impossible for him to use the commode. Though there was water, the toilet paper was missing!

 His concern is that the Railway Department should take the initiative to keep the toilets in trains and stations in proper order. In a request to the Minister, GMR and the CME of the Dept. of Railways, Bandu Dharmaratne suggests that if it is our desire to improve tourism, then we need to provide the tourists with better facilities”.


 If the CGR is unable to handle this responsibility, the alternative would be to contract it out to the private sector on a ‘pay-and-use’ policy. Such agreements should be on short-term basis with extension of such contracts dependent on how satisfied the railway management is. This would ensure cleaner toilets in trains and at railway stations. The contractual worker should strictly adhere to the agreement of basic cleaning, spraying of air fresheners, wet cleaning of glass walls and mirrors, stain removal on tiled walls and urinals and garbage disposal, and most importantly to ensure that the urinals do not stink to high heaven!

Tourist Needs

When we brag about calling Sri Lanka a ‘Paradise Island,’ it cannot be very ‘attractive’ if there are no proper toilet facilities, or every time tourists have to rush to the nearest star hotel. No one dares to use a public washroom in Sri Lanka because of them being unclean, unless one becomes helpless and desperate. Some time back the toilet at Delft Quay in Jaffna would take one to ‘hell’ with one peep at the condition of the single toilet serving hundreds of passengers and many tourists. Similarly, many tourists have been complaining about toilets at Kataragama having to pay good money to use toilets in the absence of toilet paper.

By the same token, it has to be mentioned that there are few places in private enterprises where they charge up to Rs. 50/- for the use of a washroom, but customers, having paid money, are seen coming out of the toilets covering their nose and holding their breath.

The following is a typical feedback by a female tourist, posted in the Internet, after touring Sri Lanka, which is self – explanatory.

  “While in Sri Lanka recently, there was only one place where necessity overtook me, while we were out in nowhere land. The driver just pulled over, and I scampered into the bush, making sure there were no biting critters in the vicinity”.

Why do people have to write to newspapers in this manner to seek attention of the authorities?

 picture credit: Google Photos


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